How To: Help a Loved One Cope With Her Mental Illness

Thanks to the devastating stigma attached to mental illness + the lack of research on most disorders, coming out as suffering from a mental illness is terrifying. Your loved one trusts you enough to have divulged this information. Bravo! You're on the right track! A support system is vital, especially for those combating severe disorders such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar or a personality disorder.

I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. The intense, unpredictable moods, irrational fears and feelings of vulnerability within relationships that it leads me to have impact my life every single day. Every moment, I am grateful for the people in my life who love me enough to stand by me, even when it's unbelievably hard.

A couple of days ago, during a particularly difficult episode, I talked to my ever-supportive boyfriend, Kamen.

I choked, "There's no way you could possibly want me, especially forever!" Through sobs, I continued, "Are you sure you love me enough to deal with decades of my fucked up meltdowns?!" BPD leads me to believe (almost always incorrectly, despite how real it feels) that the world is about to end and no one loves me... And on and on the terrifying thoughts go... It sounds over-dramatic, but I feel everything with this intensity, if not more.

But he simply said, "I'm damn positive".

I took deep breaths as he continued to reassure me that everything was okay and he loves me very much. I was soon able to calm down.

Your loved one is so lucky to have someone who cares enough to stand by her. Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to be there for her, especially if you have never experienced what she is going through. As someone who has a mental illness and helps others cope with their own, I've compiled a list to help you out.

Be empathetic. As painful as the position you're in is, recognize that your lover is hurting even more. Not only must she cope with her illness' symptoms on a regular basis, but she knows her illness pains you too.

Learn everything you can about the disorder. When I was diagnosed with Selective Mutism (SM), my mom read every article, newspaper clipping and book about SM she could get her hands on. Knowledge is power! Perhaps your loved one can share the books or websites that helped her.

Consider joining a support group for family, friends or lovers. You'll get some unique perspective and build a support network.

Recognize that your loved one is not her disease, BUT that it does affect her day-to-day life in a large, noticeable and uncontrollable way. Know that she has no say in this matter. Reassure her that you know it's hard and that as long as she does her best and remembers that you are there for her, everything will be okay.

Most importantly: Take care of yourself. Being there for your loved one is essential, but so is your own mental health. Never forget that! Take time to explore healthy coping skills of your own, be they meditation, making art or talking to someone you trust.

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